To help answer this question, it really depends on what you want to play.
If you want to play something straight out of the charts, like a Coldplay or Adele song, then it’s probably not going to be difficult for most people. But if you want to learn Rachmaninoff, then it’s a whole different ball game.
It also depends on the individual and how naturally gifted they are. We’ve all seen these YouTube videos of 6 year olds playing ridiculously difficult classical piano, and our jaws have it the floor. So there are clearly people out there who are born very different to most, and can pick things up much quicker than the average human.
A choice few get lucky, and something that would seem to be difficult is made to look relatively easy. But the word ‘lucky’ would be unfair to describe these virtuosos who will have practiced for hours and hours on end to achieve what you see and hear – even at the age of 6. So although they are lucky to have been blessed with a natural ability to play the piano, we have to remember the time and dedication that is behind the talent.
Again, it all comes down to what you want to play. Not all of us will be able to play a Rachmaninoff piece to a good standard, no matter how hard we try, and no matter how many years we practice. And not all of us will be able to play a Coldplay song either, but for the most part, being able to learn the piano to a good standard can be achieved if we dedicate the time and effort to this noble cause.
I was fortunate enough to learn to play the piano the correct and proper way, as most people would see it. I was taught classical and progressed through all of the 8 grades, and I dedicated a lot of time and effort learning scales and theory. I’ve put pen to paper in theory exams and sweated many times over a grand piano playing my three pieces that took me months to learn, in the hope that the very scary man or woman behind the desk would give me a good score so I could pass.
So was it easy for me? No, it wasn’t. I found it very challenging and often found myself smacking my hands on the piano in frustration because of a difficult few bars I couldn’t master. I’ve threatened to quit about 5 times, and I was more interested in playing sports when I was growing up; but somehow I still stuck with it because I was passionate about music. No matter how often I wanted to quit, I always found myself drawn back to the piano. I just couldn’t escape the melodies that were racing around in my head, or the piece of music that was staring straight at me every time I sat at the piano.
Let’s consider a couple of well known names who have been to the pinnacle of their profession. Take people like Tiger Woods and Ronnie O’Sullivan – both are geniuses in what they do, and both are extremely successful. Both have dedicated their lives to practicing what they do best. But after winning a tournament you will hear them say that they are not playing that well, and they could be better. What!!?!?! How much better do you need to be when you’ve won everything? And this is also my point. Your expectations of what you want to achieve will also determine how easy something appears.
For the majority of us, nothing in life is easy if you want to be good at it.
One of my inspirations is Jools Holland, and when he was a young man he once went to an Oscar Peterson concert. He had the fortune of meeting him after the show, and he shook his huge hand and asked him if he had any advice. Mr Peterson looked him straight in the eye and said,
I don’t think we need to say any more…